Is there some hope from the Knights ‘Players behaviour badly’ debacle?

Is
there a “glimmer of hope” for rugby league in the fallout from the
shameful events involving Newcastle Knights players in Bathurst nine
days ago?

I would like to think that there is, and it’s a
statement over the weekend from the CEO of the Newcastle Knights, Ken
Conway, that has helped to believe something positive might result.

Since
I started writing about rugby league from crikey.com.au a year ago, I
have tried to highlight the fact that the “drinking culture” in rugby
league must be addressed resolutely.

The fact that it hasn’t been addressed is at the heart of the off field misbehaviour that continues to haunt the game.

That
was driven home to me last week when I read an article by the NRL’s
adviser on player behavioural issues, Professor Catherine Lumby from
Sydney University.

In an otherwise reasoned outline of the
work she has been co-ordinating, there was one glaring omission. The
words “alcohol, grog or booze” don’t get mentioned once!

But
over the weekend the Knights CEO openly admitted that “there is a grog
culture in the club” and “not all of our players have an alcohol
problem. But some of them clearly do”.

I wonder how many other club CEOs are prepared to make the same admission? Clearly many should – perhaps even most should.

Conway
went on to say the club is putting in place a range of strategies to
address alcohol abuse and other behaviour issues among players.

At least the club is starting at the right point – by focussing on the booze drinking issue.

While
Professor Lumby is right to address the way players approach women etc,
I just wish she would be up front that alcohol is at the heart and soul
of the problem!

I wish the Knights well, and hope their approach is genuine. It is surely not before time?

It
continues to bewilder me why there is an obvious reluctance in most
sports to front up to the fact that there is just too much heavy
drinking allowed, and sometimes encouraged, when teams travel, at post
match functions and so on.

It is a particular problem in professional sports such and league and rules where players seem to have far too much free time.

But
it is also a problem for society as a whole. Street violence in our
major cities, crowd misbehaviour at cricket matches and the like all
have one common factor – too much booze.

Why Professor
Lumby, and some key officials, seem reluctant to address the real issue
first and foremost is just hard to understand.

The second reason why I have confidence about the future is that, at long last, sponsors are taking a stand.

The
Knights, who are disadvantaged by the fact they don’t have the backing
of a major licensed club, are going to have to explain to a potential
major sponsor what is being done to ensure there is no repeat of the
debacle.

It will need to be a good explanation!

Rugby
league clubs and AFL clubs, sadly, have become a nightmare for
sponsors. And that comes at a time when the sponsorship dollar is
getting harder and harder to secure.

Sponsors must cease
being spectators on such occasions, and demand that, as a condition of
their continued support, clubs, and players clean up their act. And
they must attach to the demand a condition that unless they do so,
their sponsorship will be cancelled.

The Knights are not in
a particularly strong financial position given that the club does not
have a revenue stream from a licensed club.

The potential loss of serious dollars from sponsors might ram home the message once and for all.

So out of as very bad week for rugby league, and for sport generally, some good may come. Not before time!

Last week I mentioned my search engine could not find the ARL website. I am grateful to a writer who pointed it out – www.australianrugbyleague.com.au – and while it is nothing special it is better than nothing!

The NRL is about to launch a new website – and the launch will coincide with the start of the 2005 season now just 11 days away.

Outside Centre

Footnote:
I have written about 100 columns on rugby league for crikey.com.au in
the last year. In that time I have received just two critical emails
from “readers”.

Last week, one arrived accusing me of
hypocrisy for questioning whether the Knights’ Dane Tilse had become a
“scapegoat” for the Bathurst outrage after I had called for tough
action against offenders.

Anyone who has read the column
over the last year will know that I have campaigned for “procedural
fairness” in the NRL, especially in the way the judiciary functions.
Tilse may well deserve to be suspended for a year, but the way the
matter was handled certainly left the impression that he was run out of
the game at very short notice in order to get the media off the Knights
back. And I am not the first writer to say that!

To avoid
the impression he was being made a scapegoat, the NRL should have
intervened on day one, appointed an independent investigator, and then
given the worst offenders a “show cause notice,” to “show cause” why
they should not been run out of the game fullstop.

But that
does not seem to have happened. If Tilse’s manager is to be believed,
and if he and his parents are to be believed, the “procedural fairness”
accorded even the worst criminals, seems to have been denied in his
case.

And “procedural fairness” mighty have resulted in an even tougher penalty – if it turns out that he was the worst offender.

It may also well be that one or two of his team mates have got off very light indeed.

So I don’t believe I have been hypocritical at all.

Last week’s abusive writer ended his missive with the comment – “we are watching you”.

The
great thing about crikey.com.au is that none of the
correspondents/columnists are threatened one iota by such nonsense.
Were it to be otherwise we might as well all give the game way!